Return to Transcripts main page

ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

House Judiciary Chair Demands Attorney General Barr Release Any Summaries of Mueller Report Prepared by Special Counsel's Team; Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) is Interviewed About Nadler Demanding DOJ Release Communications Between Attorney General and Mueller's Office; NY Times: Pres. Trump Asked That Confirmation of IRS Counsel Be a Priority. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired April 4, 2019 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[20:00:23] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

We have new information tonight on the story that we first reported last night and that "The New York Times" first broke. Sources familiar with the conversations telling us that several people on Robert Mueller's team are frustrated about how Attorney General William Barr, the nation's top law enforcement official characterized some of the special counsel's unreleased report. They reportedly contend that his four-page summary glossed over potentially damaging information in the full report about the president's actions.

Our Pamela Brown has new details on that. She joins us in just a minute or two.

But first, how the president and his supporters are reacting to the story and what they're saying once again about the Mueller team. It's kind of a throwback to those thrilling days of yesteryear when this was the official line about all things Robert Mueller.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The problem with Mueller investigation is everybody's got massive conflicts.

Mr. Mueller is highly conflicted. In fact, Comey is like his best friend.

These people have the biggest conflicts of interest I've ever seen.

I call them the 13 angry Democrats.

I could go into conflict after conflict, but sadly, Mr. Mueller is conflicted.

Mueller was not Senate confirmed because of all the conflicts, they didn't want to bring him before the senate, because he is very conflicted.

He is conflicted, and I know that his best friend is Comey who is a bad cop. He put 13 highly conflicted and, you know, very angry -- I call them angry Democrats in. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So that was the president's and the administration's line right up until Attorney General Barr put out his summary, which appeared to clear the president with conspiring with Russians during election, and according to Barr's take on the Mueller report, also cleared him which also included Mueller's language of not exonerating the president.

Now, that aside, the White House apparently seized on the positive outcome and their Mueller take shifted pretty dramatically.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It was a complete and total exoneration.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think everyone here and everyone frankly across America was happy.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: We had the full investigation, $25 million plus of taxpayer dollars, 500 witness, over a million documents. This, the Mueller examination is the gold standard.

TRUMP: The Mueller report was great. It could not have been better. It said no obstruction, no collusion. It could not have been better.

CONWAY: I do see some people now trying to besmirch the integrity of Director Mueller, Attorney General Barr, that is really rich.

REPORTER: Mr. President, do you think Robert Mueller acted honorably?

TRUMP: Yes, he did. Yes, he did.

CONWAY: This, the Mueller investigation is the gold standard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, you know what they say, all that glitters is actually the work o f sneaky unethical leakers actually. Well, they don't all say that.

But the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, sure does, at least he did last night, once the story broke with the unhappiness with Barr from the Mueller team. And just like that, everything old was new again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: It makes the point we've been making for two years despite all of the media reports about how holy and sanctimonious the Mueller team. They're a bunch of sneaky, unethical leakers, and they are rabid Democrats who hate the president of the United States. And I can't tell you how much false information they leaked during the course of the investigation. How many people were going to be indicted that didn't get indicted?

How many blockbusters were there, starting with Papadopoulos and ending with Cohen who turns out to be a serial liar? I mean, how could you have any confidence in this?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: OK. So, he is no longer a fan. That said, keeping them honest, Robert Mueller is a Republican, and yes, a number of attorneys on his team have donated to Democrats in his past, but Mueller is no rabid Democrat. And as far as anyone can tell, the amount of information leaked from the Mueller team true or false is zero, much to reporters' dismay perhaps but to Mueller's credit.

No doubt, the arguments over the evidence they gathered and how it should be interpreted or act on, but there is really no reason to believe that any games were played in the course of the probe. In any case, the mayor should know that consistency counts when establishing credibility. You can love or hate Robert Mueller and his team, but if you want the public to trust your take on them, you can't love them one day and hate them the next, depending on what you think they're saying about you.

Our Pamela Brown joins us now with her new reporting on the clash over Robert Mueller's report and William Barr's summary of it.

What did you learn, Pamela?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we learned a few things here, that there is this clash between some of Robert Mueller's investigators and the Attorney Bill Barr, more specifically, about the letter that the attorney general gave to Congress with those key findings of the Mueller investigation. We have learned that some of the investigators on Mueller's team speaking to outside associates don't feel like he adequately described the obstruction probe in particular in some of their findings that included derogatory information.

[20:05:01] As you'll recall in that letter to Congress, the attorney general obliquely said that Mueller's team found evidence on both sides of the issue, and did say that Mueller did not exonerate him, but that ultimately, the attorney general was left to make the decision. Apparently, Mueller's investigators feel like that was not an accurate representation of some of their findings in the obstruction probe, and they've been expressing this frustration, also that the attorney general has been able to shape the public perception of their findings.

And as you just played many clips of the president and his aides celebrating that he has been exonerated, yes, it is true the attorney general did clear him on obstruction, but Mueller's team feels as though there is more there that wasn't represented to the public. And as you know, Anderson, Barr said or our reporting is that Barr did not consult with Mueller or the investigators with those initial findings that he provided to Congress and the public, Anderson.

COOPER: So did -- did they expect more of what they delivered to Barr to be in the memo that he released?

BROWN: According to our sources, yes, that they wrote summaries of their findings that were included in the report, and they thought that more of that should be released to the public. Now a source that we spoke with pushed back on this saying that the summaries contained sensitive information that would have needed to be scrubbed, and the Justice Department released a statement saying that every single page in the report contained a note, flag that it contained potentially sensitive information that shouldn't go out to the public.

And the Justice Department also says it was never the deal, part of the deal for Barr to just summarize the findings. The Justice Department said due to the intense public interest here, Barr wanted to as soon as possible provide the principle conclusions, and then as we know, provide more when he could. And he is going through the report now with putting redactions in conjunction with Robert Mueller's team to release to the public.

So that's what the Justice Department is saying about this.

COOPER: Were there other frustrations among Mueller's team do, we know?

BROWN: Yes, we have learned there were other frustrations just beyond the way this was handled, and that is the interviews they haven't been able to get, including with President Trump, but also we learned, Anderson, that the team never got a chance to sit down and interview Don Jr., the president's son.

Of course, Don Jr. was a key figure in all of this. He could have shed light on the Trump Tower meeting, when the Russians offered dirt on Hillary Clinton. He could have shed light on the Air Force One statement that was misleading that was a key part of the obstruction probe.

We did as we know testify to several committees and presumably Robert Mueller's team had access to those transcripts, but they never had a chance to sit down with him, and that has been a source of frustration for the team as well. We should note that Don Jr.'s attorney declined to comment -- Anderson.

COOPER: Do we know why? Why he didn't sit down with them? Did they ask?

BROWN: We don't. We don't know the why. We know that Robert Mueller apparently pressed to interview Don Jr., and that never happened, that sit-down interview never happened, and same with President Trump. There were these discussions about issuing a subpoena for a sit-down interview, and that never happened either. It never got to the point where a formal request was made for a subpoena.

So there is certainly a lot more to learn about what went on behind the scenes in the special counsel.

COOPER: All right. Pamela Brown, thanks very much. As all that was unfolding, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry

Nadler dispatched a letter to the attorney general, demanding that he'd publicly release those Mueller summaries as soon as possible. He also asked for communications between the special counsel and the department of Justice about the report.

I talked about that as well as the back and forth over the report itself with Virginia Democratic Congressman Gerald Connolly who sits on the House Oversight Committee.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Congressman Connolly, these summaries, why do you think they need to be released immediately, as Congressman Nadler is calling for them to be?

REP. GERALD CONNOLLY (D-VA): I think we're very concerned, Anderson, that as time goes by, a certain narrative that may be highly inaccurate sets in, and that narrative, of course, the one the president has propounded, that full exoneration, nothing to see here, let's move on. Well, we haven't seen the Mueller report. We haven't seen the summaries that his staff prepared of the report. We've only seen one four-page summary of 400-page report plus supporting documents. And there is nothing like seeing the real document for all of us to make up our own minds.

COOPER: So you're afraid that people -- because that was something that was also echoed according to reporting from some of the people on Mueller's team that they were afraid this had already kind of set the stage in people's minds for forming an opinion?

CONNOLLY: That's right. That's right. And there is so much -- last time we met, we talked about this.

Let's take obstruction of justice. The only thing we know in direct quotes through the Barr summary is that Mueller said I couldn't conclude a crime had been committed by the president with respect to obstruction of justice, but neither could I exonerate him, unquote.

[20:10:12] Now that is stunning. That is -- that's a prosecutor saying a crime may very well have been committed. I couldn't resolve it.

COOPER: You know, Republicans are saying, look, the attorney general has promised he is going to release as much of the report as he legally can. Why not give him the time he needs, you know? It's almost 400 pages to go through.

CONNOLLY: Look, Democrats have been consistent all along, long before the Mueller report was in fact written or completed that whatever he had to say, the public and the Congress deserved to have the full report. So that's not a new refrain. The idea that the attorney general needs weeks to edit and redact the report when it took him less than 48 hours to determine the president would not be charged with a crime, obstruction of justice, even though the Mueller report says that they couldn't exonerate him from such a crime, I think just doesn't pass the smell test for the public or certainly with us.

COOPER: Do you think Mueller needs to testify in front of congress? Or can the report, if it's released and not heavily redacted speak for itself?

CONNOLLY: I hope the report speaks for itself, Anderson, but I think sooner or later Mueller absolutely be essential as a witness, as will Attorney General Barr. But I think there is no substitute for getting the man in flesh and blood to talk what he was thinking, why they concluded X, Y and Z, why they left some things out. For example, why didn't they pursue getting testimony under oath from the president himself? What led to that decision?

COOPER: Just lastly, one administration official told CNN today that it would be inappropriate -- that's not the word they used, it was actually short of a curse word -- to release embarrassing information about the president if he is not going to be accused of any crimes. What do you say to that?

CONNOLLY: Anderson, pray tell, what could be more embarrassing than what we already know about this president? Hush money, playmates, porn stars, you know, lying about Russian money and his involvement in a potential Trump tower in Moscow, calling people out by names, you know, denigrating people with disability, denigrating certain ethnic groups.

I mean, is there an embarrassment this president hasn't engaged in that would actually be magnified by the Mueller report? I doubt it.

COOPER: Congressman Connolly, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

CONNOLLY: My pleasure, Anderson. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, joining us now, "New York Times" White House correspondent, CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Do we know, Maggie, where the president actually stands on Mueller now? He didn't like him and then he liked him.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he stands wherever it is good for Donald Trump is how he feels about Robert Mueller. So when the summary came out from Bill Barr and he was able to seize on the parts of that seemed good, he did that.

One of the things that has come out in the last day is there were people on the Mueller team who were surprised at how Barr handled this and how the president seized on that. And I don't understand how anyone could have watched the past two years and been surprised what the president did because this is pretty much how he handles all of these things. I think you will see him and Rudy Giuliani say any number of things about this report as we head into the time when it is portions of it anyway are released publicly. There were some people around the president when the report was

submitted who were saying to him regardless of what the Barr letter says, just be cautious in what you say because it is going to come out eventually. The details of this report -- we haven't seen it. We don't know what's in it. But we do know just based on what we have all been reporting on and based on what we heard from some members of the team who have concerns, there are going to be a lot of details in there that are maybe not criminally damaging, as we know, but certainly potentially politically damaging. He has embraced this.

COOPER: It does seem, Gloria, that until it is released, it is going to be both sides vying for controlling the narrative.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. And at this point, of course, the president has controlled the narrative. He said I'm completely vindicated, even though he wasn't and there was no collusion. And as Maggie says, there is no reason to expect otherwise.

But now that you have this reporting from "The New York Times" and elsewhere about the discrepancies between what was in the Barr letter and the reports of what team Mueller thought should have been in the Barr letter and the news that there may have been summaries that were scrubbed that Barr could have used in his letter and chose not to, the fight is on to say okay, the Democrats are saying, well, we have to clear this up. We have to know what Barr chose not to use and the American public deserves to see it.

[20:15:00] COOPER: Well, Jeff, I mean, this letter from Nadler demanding the release of summaries from Mueller, does that have any weight at all?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's unlikely. Remember, Mueller is a subordinate of Barr. I mean, he is an employee of the Department of Justice. He is not an independent counsel. He is simply an employee.

So, you know, internal communications within an executive department is very unusual for those to be released. I think Nadler is really interested in, as most people are interested in is getting the report, but if you look at the categories that Barr established, those four categories, classified information, grand jury material, other investigations, potentially embarrassing material, that's huge.

COOPER: Right.

TOOBIN: I don't know that Barr will define those expansively.

COOPER: Particularly embarrassing material was for third parties which could be the president.

BORGER: Sure.

COOPER: It could be the president. The president could have this extraordinary situation of -- well, he can't be indicted under Justice Department policy, but because he can't be indicted and is not being charged, you can't disclose embarrassing information about him, which is a "heads I win, tails you lose" situation for the president.

I don't know if that's how Barr is going to interpret it. But based on the four category, it's possible he'll do that.

BORGER: It's really difficult to figure out. You can't indict the president. So do you want to pull a James Comey, as he did with Hillary Clinton and say I'm not going indict her, but she was reckless? And so, what do you put in the public view, in the public domain about somebody you can't indict who also happens to be the president of the United States and needs some accountability to the public?

HABERMAN: And is also running for reelection.

BORGER: Exactly.

HABERMAN: And right in the middle of that, there is going to be pushback.

BORGER: Sure.

COOPER: "The Times" reporting that members of Mueller's team are displeased. The president today tweeted this. "The New York Times" had no legitimate sources which would be totally illegal concerning the Mueller report. In fact, they probably had no sources at all. They are a fake newspaper who have already been forced to apologize for their incorrect and very bad reporting on me.

HABERMAN: OK.

TOOBIN: Where do you start?

HABERMAN: I mean, I guess I would refer people to the episode of the daily podcast that "The Times" puts out where there was an extended audio of the interview between A.G. Sulzberger, our publisher, and the president -- from January, where our president referred glowingly to "The Times" and how much he valued its coverage. So, I would ask them to contrast with that.

COOPER: Look what he does to people's faces. I mean --

HABERMAN: It's also what he does in terms -- Jeffrey used the term I had been thinking of before, "heads I win, tails you lose", what is all about. It is not surprising that he is trying to undermine faith in institutions or anything that is potentially challenge what he wants to see out there. We have seen him do this over and over. We obviously stand by the reporting, and the repeated falsehood that he asserts that "the times" apologized for coverage is also not true, but it's something he likes saying, and it is something that his supporters have taken hold of.

COOPER: Gloria, we also learned that Michael Cohen is telling Congress that he has more information.

BORGER: Yes.

COOPER: That he has found on some sort of a hard drive and essentially wants more time before going to prison.

BORGER: Right.

COOPER: Or perhaps some sort of reduction.

BORGER: His attorneys wrote a letter today to congressional Democrats who had been on oversight committees saying, look, I've discovered this hard drive. I've only looked through 1 percent of it. It has 14 million files, emails.

COOPER: It seems it would have been seized by --

BORGER: It might have.

COOPER: -- investigators and already looked at?

BORGER: Well, they say they just discovered it, and it contains substantial new information, and that what he wants is for the Democrats to write letters on his behalf to the Southern District of New York saying they need his assistance in their oversight investigation, and therefore he should not go to jail on May 6th as he is supposed to go to jail. I don't know what Democrats will do.

COOPER: Jeff?

TOOBIN: It's certainly a long shot that he'll get any sort of reduction in sentence. I don't think it's out of the question that he might get some delay. You have to look at Michael Cohen's situation, which is here he is, he is the only person going to prison, Manafort, who put millions of dollars in his pocket.

HABERMAN: And the crimes were not direct -- some of them related to the campaign or overlapped with it. But they refer to a lot of other things.

TOOBIN: But, Michael Cohen is convicted of behavior that benefits Donald Trump, not him. And he's the one who is going to prison. And Congress is saying to him spend your last month of freedom helping us out for which you have gotten and will get no benefit. I mean, it is not a good position to be in. But I don't know what he can do about it, really.

COOPER: If he had been a cooperating witness, though, wouldn't it have gone easier for him?

BORGER: I don't think so.

TOOBIN: It might have. He had this peculiar guilty plea situation where he had no cooperation agreement, although he did cooperate. But he didn't really get much benefit out of it. And he got three years, which by white collar standards is a pretty substantial sentence.

[20:20:05] And he has to serve 85 percent of that in federal court.

COOPER: Federal prison.

TOOBIN: Federal prison. Yes.

COOPER: Jeff Toobin, Gloria Borger, Maggie Haberman, thanks very much.

Maggie is going to stick around. She has some new reporting that was just up on "The Times" website. I'm sitting right next to her and didn't know about it.

It could have bearing on the battle over the president's tax. Also what the president saying about the fight and later tracking the threats the president makes but doesn't follow through on, including his latest back-down. Keeping them honest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: More breaking news tonight. It's really interesting news. Trump speaking out about top Democrats' request for his tax returns. The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has asked the IRS provide the president's returns as you probably know from 2013 through 2018.

[20:25:02] Now, when President Trump was asked about it this afternoon, he didn't really have a direct answer.

Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They'll speak to my lawyers, and they'll speak to the attorney general.

REPORTER: Will you direct the IRS to do that?

TRUMP: They'll speak to my lawyers and they'll speak to the attorney general.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, that is what's known as a shot across the bow.

And the president's motivation for saying it might just make a little more sense in the context of Maggie Haberman's new reporting. She is back with us.

This is really fascinating stuff. Explain. It has to do with the IRS, the general counsel to the IRS and somebody who is linked to President Trump.

HABERMAN: Sure. So, Matthew Desmond, who is the chief counsel for the IRS, his nomination had been languishing for many months. He was nominated last fall. The president called before Bill Barr was confirmed, it was several days or a week before back in February.

The president called Mitch McConnell. And in the course of the conversation said he would like him to fast track the IRS chief counsel, his confirmation vote, that Desmond was getting frustrated with the wait, might want to withdraw his nomination, and it was a top priority, even more of a priority than getting Barr confirmed.

COOPER: Wow. Wait a minute. The president said getting the general counsel to the IRS --

HABERMAN: Correct.

COOPER: Who is somebody who has worked --

HABERMAN: Who is among his previous clientele had been some work related to the Trump organization that is correct. And he has worked alongside the president's tax lawyer.

COOPER: So it was more important to get him confirmed than the attorney general of the United States.

HABERMAN: At the time, yes. The Senate we should note did not move the Desmond vote before Barr. Barr was confirmed when he was expected to be and Desmond was confirmed at the end of February. He is now there.

The White House will say Desmond's confirmation had been a priority for many months, a top five priority because he was going to be dealing with a potentially very dicey tax season after the passing of the tax bill. So fine, OK, except he does have the specific connection to the president, and it struck a number of people as possible that the president had other motives, given the Democrats had already been talking about trying to get hold of his tax returns, presumably the chief counsel to the IRS would be involved in that decision in some way.

COOPER: Yes, you would think -- if the IRS was -- it seems like it's up to the IRS how to proceed. But if the general counsel for the IRS, I assume that is the person who would be the point of contact.

HABERMAN: Or at least might have some involvement in it, yes. But I think it is an example if that was the president's motive, that is part of a pattern we have seen repeatedly where he tries to install people he perceives as loyalists in certain jobs where there are potential investigative connections.

COOPER: Wow. That's really fascinating. Maggie Haberman, thanks very much. I appreciate it.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

COOPER: Joining us now, is Trump biographer, Michael D'Antonio, author most recently of "The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence", also, CNN legal analyst Laura Coates. So, Laura, first off Maggie's reporting the president pushed the Senate to fast track his nominee for IRS chief counsel. How do you see that?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I mean, just think about the context of it. Within a week of the federal government reopening, I know that sounds like a long time ago, the president prioritizes the chief counsel of the IRS. That's top of the list, even over the attorney general of the United States. I mean, think about what the role of that person is. The role of that chief counsel coincidentally is able to interpret the code, to be able to figure out what should be a plausible interpretation, the enforcement of it.

The IRS code is known to be extraordinarily boring, and frankly straight forward, this point that what it says is actually supposed to be followed. So to prioritize that really puts into context that the president of the United States anticipated within a few weeks of the new Democratic-led House of Representatives coming in, knowing that there are going to be three bodies in Congress with the authority to try to get his tax returns, according to that boring tax code, he prioritizes that.

This sounds a lot like what happened in the Southern District of New York with Geoffrey Berman, especially to have his girl Friday in the office or the make sure he had oversight over a particular area that's close to home for the president of the United States, Manhattan, where a number of his businesses are.

So, you see as Maggie pointed out this trend. But you also see a gearing up, a preparation by the president of the United States and his team to say we're going to be -- this is going to be a request. We have to prepare for litigation. He didn't have for the head of the IRS, it's the chief counsel. And remember, it's the DOJ, Anderson, that will have the obligation to actually litigate the matter in the courts.

So if the head of the DOJ was less important than the person interpreting the tax code, you know where he was thinking and what he was thinking about.

COOPER: Michael, the claim that the president's tax returns are under audit, Michael Cohen was asked about that when he testified before the house oversight in February. I just want to play that, what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIMMY GOMEZ (D), OVERSIGHT AND REFORM COMMITTEE: Mr. Cohen, do you know whether President Trump's tax returns were really under audit by the IRS in 2016?

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I don't know the answer. I asked for a copy of the audit so that I could use it in terms of my statements to the press, and I was never able to obtain one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HERE

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[20:30:00] MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S FORMER ATTORNEY: I don't know the answer. I asked for a copy of the audit so that I could use it in terms of my statements to the press, and I was never able to obtain one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's not just the President hasn't turned over his tax returns as he said he would. There is -- there's not any proof that -- ever that he's been under audit.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, there isn't any proof. And what we do have proof of is that the President prior to his inauguration trotted out a tax lawyer who actually was working in the same firm as Mr. Desmond, who Maggie reported as nominated and now the chief counsel at the IRS.

And that in that dog and pony show, there were stacks and stacks of files that appeared to just have blank paper in them and he was announcing that he was doing something to separate his business interest from his activity as President. And really, it was a kind of toothless act that he took that really didn't remove him from contact with his children who are running these firms.

So time and again we have a president who's making these personnel decisions on a personal basis with an eye toward protecting himself, not the national interest, not the American taxpayer where the IRS counsel you would think would be most concerned with applying the tax code.

And now he's going to fight all of this in court, citing his attorney general who he's always complained should be his personal lawyer. So, we're seeing the true Trump method at work, which is to make everything about protecting himself.

COOPER: Laura, you know, there is no law that the candidate Trump had to release his tax returns. Yes, everyone since Nixon had done that. But, you know, the President's supporters could very easily say and understandably so, "Well, look, there's -- he's not breaking any law by not releasing his returns." And now Congress -- now that the Democrats have come in are reaching out to try to look at those returns, how is that not just harassment?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they are trying to argue that this is a weaponization of the tax code, and that will probably form the basis of the majority of any pushback from Steve Mnuchin on down. However, the tax code is actually quite clear about the requirements they shall furnish the tax information to that particular Ways and Means Committee.

So, whether the public ultimately will see it will be maybe a different story. But, it's important that you raise the idea of the context and the historical precedent set. The reason it dates back to Nixon is because Nixon himself, based on charitable deductions, and the fear of the American people that nobody was guarding the guards, and that the IRS was somehow not providing a fair auditing process of the President of the United States as they would have with an average Joe citizen.

He said in his famous "I'm not a crook" statement about that idea of a cost benefit analysis of on the one hand you have the privacy interests of somebody issuing a tax return or filling one out against the public's right to know whether or not the President is a crook. Nixon said, "Well, I'm not a crook," but he voluntarily transferred and turned over his tax returns. That's a difference.

COOPER: Yes. Laura Coates, Michael D'Antonio, thanks very much.

Coming up next, the President's retreat from a border competition on Mexico and his larger pattern based on making threats and then backing down. The question is, is there a strategy behind it? Is it wise or is it just the art of the cave? We're keeping him honest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:36:58] COOPER: President Trump has been doing a lot of reversing himself lately, and whether you consider that a good or bad thing, it certainly is fascinating on a number of levels. Because for the most part the President is retreating from battles of his own making and corners you could say of his own painting from threats he makes, but then didn't fulfill.

Today, he backed down from his threat to close parts or all of the southern border as early as this week. Now, it's maybe some time next year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to give them a one-year warning. And if the drugs don't stop or largely stop, we're going to put tariffs on Mexico and products, in particular cars. The whole ball game is cars. That's the big ball game, with many countries, its cars. And if that doesn't stop the drugs, we close the border.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So now he's going to close it in a year if "the drugs don't stop or largely stop." That retreat is part of a campaign of retreats. He said Mexico, of course, would pay for the wall. He walked away from that in a number of ways. He said it would be made by -- of pre-cast concrete but then settled for the same metal fencing that's already in place for a wall that still hasn't been built. Shutdown the government to get funding from Congress and failed to get it and backed down.

Now, all of this is certainly complicated stuff. Let's be fair, in backing down from something that you promised or campaigned on, that's not necessarily a bad thing. For some, it would be a sign that they've learned about an issue and changed their mind, nothing wrong with that.

The reason this is so striking with this President is he doesn't admit he's ever been -- changed his mind or backed down. And he campaigned by repeatedly claiming all this would be so easy for him because according to him he is very smart and he knows how to win, and the President has won or had really good news on a number of important things. We should also point out, Supreme Court justices, conservative judges, unemployment, but on his centerpieces on the border, not so much. Same with health care, without warning, he reopened his fight to replace Obamacare. And when his own party told him to drop it to delay a politically punishing vote until after the 2020 election, he did.

He backed down, that's because he had no plan, because if he had a great health care plan or any plan, he could be promoting it now before the election. This is clearly a bluff, and we know this because it's the exact same health care bluff that he used in 2016. He's almost using the same words.

He's running a bluff which he's done about big things and small things over the years, whether it's threatening to investigate and prosecute Hillary Clinton, or unleash fire and fury in North Korea, or reveal what his investigators uncovered about President Obama's birth certificate, which is not to say the Presidents never threaten or even bluff, they do. What they don't do is raise the stakes so high and then fold their cards as often as we've seen this President do.

Plenty to talk about with our next two guests, Rick Wilson is a Republican strategist. We've heard him say a difference or two with the party these days. He is the author of "Everything Trump Touches Dies." Also CNN Global Affairs Analyst Max Boot who also knows his catchy book titles having written, "The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right."

Max, the President today saying that he doesn't play games. I mean, the irony of so much what this President says is it's almost opposite of what the truth actually is. I mean, he does play games. It's exactly what this is, isn't it?

[20:40:12] MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Absolutely. I mean, just a few days ago, you had Kellyanne Conway saying the President is not bluffing, you have to take him seriously. Well, on contrary he is bluffing and you can't take him seriously and this is part of a pattern with him. He is a master of bluff and bluster and BS. That is his stock in trade. That is what his whole candidacy and his whole presidency is all about.

COOPER: Rick, some of his supporters will say, "Well, look, he's shaking things up and by threatening that to Mexico and to Congress, he's getting people to react or to do something that they might not otherwise have done."

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, you know, I think there's been a lot of sort of magical thinking on the part of Trump supporters that the character that they saw on a reality show called "The Apprentice" for 15 years was the real Donald Trump.

And, you know, he's really not an actually terrific negotiator. He's not a deal maker and he doesn't really have the ability to move the needle like he claims he did in terms of making other countries or making other people do what he wants. I mean, we've looked at North Korea, we've looked at Mexico, we've looked at NATO, we've looked at China, we've looked at Russia, none of those places are doing what Donald Trump wants because he doesn't really have the ability to cut these deals that folks thought he could do.

And so that's why he tends to bluster, he tends to like lay it out there and say things like, "I'm going to close the border tomorrow," and then walks it become a year. "I'm going to eliminate the ACA," then maybe two years from now.

So these things are always sort of, you know, intangibles and promises that don't get -- that don't get fulfilled and his audience tends to make excuses for it.

COOPER: Well, Max, one of those excuses often that we have heard now over the last two years from supporters on the air is, well, look, I pay attention to the policy. I'm not listening to the tweets and what he says, which I understand that as an argument.

But in the case of saying I'm shutting down aid to Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, the policy was Kirstjen Nielsen in the region signing a deal on a Wednesday, announcing it on a Thursday about greater cooperation as a way to move forward and then the President's statement on Friday and subsequent follow-through by State Department on Saturday. I mean, the statement is the policy and it destroyed the policy that they were actually pursuing.

BOOT: Right. I think there's a couple of issues here, Anderson. A, the President has terrible policy instincts. And B, the President says a lot of stuff that he doesn't mean. For example, when he says I'm going to take the troops out of Syria, or when he said last week that he is going to come up with a health care plan or I'm going to close the border with Mexico next week, and he doesn't do any of those things or, you know, threatening to rain fire and fury down on North Korea or what have you.

And with the latter category of statements where he doesn't actually execute them, I mean, it's generally a good thing, because these -- what he says is hare-brained, it doesn't make any sense. It would be actually dangerous to actually carry out his ideas. But, there's a huge cost to having a president who is a BS artist. His words don't mean anything.

Other countries understand that they can discount 98 percent of what Trump says. That puts him in a very weak negotiating position with countries like China and North Korea, and potentially it creates a real danger down the road if we get into a real crisis where the President's words are the difference between war and peace and who the heck can possibly take anything that Donald Trump takes seriously in that kind of situation.

COOPER: Rick, I don't know -- I don't know the answer to this but, I mean, do you think the President actually cares about all the, you know, the impact overseas, the opinion of overseas, the actual follow- through. There's not actual follow-through, or that it gets reversed later on.

As long as to his base, to the people he is talking to directly, he appears to be, you know, following through or appears to be acting tough, and that's enough for them because they're not following through on the details.

WILSON: Right. Anderson, I think you've got a very good point there. Donald Trump lives in the very immediate moment. He lives in the now. He's always focused on what the next headline about him says, how his base is perceiving his action at that moment. He understands they don't really have a real deep historical memory and they don't look prospectively at the potential consequences of his statements and actions.

So, he is always looking to keep the Trump image right where he wants it, keep the cameras on him at all times, and to move forward all the time, no matter what wreckage is behind him, and no matter what cleanup has to be done on the wild statements and the lies and the prevarications and the back and forth and on the flip-flops.

He knows that he is always going to have a built-in audience that loves seeing Donald Trump perform the Donald Trump act. You know, this whole performance art presidency of his is about the next big explosion, the next big show, the next big tweet, the craziness that comes, you know, to keep the bread and the circus' aspect of Donald Trump.

[20:45:07] COOPER: Which I mean is just bizarre given that he is president. I mean, what you describe is, you know, fine for if you're a realtor or you're, you know, you're a developer of sorts. But I mean, he -- it's -- I mean it actually has consequence now.

WILSON: Moving from being a celebrity to being a president is a big deal.

COOPER: Yes. Max Boot, Rick Wilson, thank you.

BOOT: Yes. Thank you.

WILSON: Thanks, Anderson.

Still ahead, President Trump's lies. This week he said the sound made by windmills may cause cancer and that his father was born in Germany, both not true. The one he said several times before, the question of course is why does he do that? We'll take an in-depth look at the president's tricky relationship sometimes with the truth.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: As we've been reporting, the President claimed during a press conference yesterday that his father was "born in a very wonderful place in Germany." Actually, his father, Fred Trump, was born in New York City. His grandfather was from Germany.

And not telling the truth about his father's birthplace wasn't the only false claim the President made this week, you might be not surprised to learn. On Tuesday night, he said this about windmills and the sound they make and cancer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Hillary wanted to put up wind, wind. If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations, your house just went down 75 percent in value.

[20:50:03] And they say the noise causes cancer, you tell me that one, OK. You know, the thing makes it (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: In case you missed it, the President of the United States uttered the sound from windmills they say causes cancer. Of course -- I mean, do I need to say this that there's no proof to back that up.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley called the President's comments idiotic. However you see it, this is certain making statements that are absolutely not true, nothing new from the President.

More now from CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Donald Trump has had a fraught relationship with the truth. One that goes back decades to the building and selling of Trump Tower where Barbara Res managed the construction.

BARBARA RES, FORMER TRUMP ORGANIZATION VICE PRESIDENT: He planted that Princess Di was looking for an apartment in Trump Tower.

BORGER (on camera): And that didn't happen?

RES: No. But it made the papers.

BORGER: Sure. So veracity wasn't apart of it. It was just getting the buzz out there about Trump?

RES: Yes, yes.

BORGER: Did you guys laugh at it or --

RES: Yes, because there was nothing to terrible about it. I mean, you know, it was kind of like puffing. You know, it was like exaggerating.

BORGER (voice-over): Tony Schwartz, co-author of Trump's "Art of the Deal" has a name for this.

TONY SCHWARTZ, CO-AUTHOR, "ART OF THE DEAL": I came up with the phrase truthful hyperbole, which is, you know, I called it an innocent form of exaggeration. Now, I can call something that I actually sold for $2 million, I can say $10 million, and that becomes truthful hyperbole. The problem is that there is no such thing as truthful hyperbole. The truth is the truth. Hyperbole is a lie. They don't go together.

BORGER: And they didn't go together during the troubled opening of Trump's Atlantic City Taj Mahal Casino in 1990 when some of the slots didn't work.

ALAN LAPIDUS, ARCHITECT FOR DONALD TRUMP: When the casino control commission went down there on opening day to check out that all the things had been done, many things hadn't been done, they shutdown a third of the slots.

BORGER: Slots that were critical to the casino success.

LAPIDUS: The slots are the prime revenue producer of the casino. To shutdown the third on opening day was both humiliating and financially disastrous and it was only done because he doesn't have, you know, an organization in depth.

BORGER: But that wasn't the story Trump told.

JACK O'DONNELL, MANAGER TRUMP PLAZE CASINO: Something could go bad, like the opening of the Taj, and he would say it's because we had so many business here that this happened. Not that the systems broke down, not that we didn't know what we were doing, we had so much business that it broke down. Truly, he'd just been lying about everything.

BORGER: And he did.

LARRY KING, HOST, CNN "LARRY KING LIVE": What about the slot machine thing where they were down for a while.

TRUMP: The slots were so hot. Nobody's -- again, nobody seen people play that hard and that fast.

KING: So it blew out the slots literally?

TRUMP: They blew apart. We had machines that --

KING: Was like too much -- like a fuse?

TRUMP: They were virtually on fire.

O'DONNELL: Donald is wrapped up in hyperbole that it's almost constant lies, you know, whether it's the littlest things where, you know, if you had 2,000 people at an event, you know, he would say there was 5,000 people at an event.

BORGER: Lying when there seems to be no reason to lie.

SCHWARTZ: There's no belief system.

If it will work, I will say it. If it stops working, I'll say it's opposite and I will not feel any compunction about saying its opposite because I don't believe anything in the first place.

BORGER: Lying when it's in his political interest as he did last July after his disastrous press conference with Vladimir Putin trying to walk back this remark on election interference.

TRUMP: My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think its Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it could be.

In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word would instead of wouldn't. Instead, it should have been "I don't see any reason why I wouldn't or why it wouldn't be Russia."

SCHWARTZ: Seeing it from his perspective doesn't make a distinction between what's true and what's false. His only distinction is what will work and what will not work.

BORGER (on camera): And what happens when he's challenged with facts? What does he do?

SCHWARTZ: He has a genius, you know, perverse genius for turning any situation into something that is evidence of his brilliance, even if it's not true.

TRUMP: What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: That was Gloria Borger reporting. Let's check in with Chris to see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, when you see it laid out like that --

COOPER: Yes.

CUOMO: -- it's quite a situation that we're dealing with my gingham (ph) guy. So, tonight we'll --

COOPER: I salute Morley Safer (INAUDIBLE).

CUOMO: It is.

COOPER: I mean he was a big gingham guy.

[20:55:00] CUOMO: Well, you "60 Minutes" guys just stick together and I respect that. We have the DHS secretary tonight, Kirstjen Nielsen, and she's down on the border. The President is going down there tomorrow. We have what I believe is a very good and productive conversation about the status down there, what she believes they need and why they're not getting it.

I hope people watch it because I don't know why Congress is sleeping on the situation. Frankly, I don't know why the President is either and you'll see in the interview where that assertion comes from. We also have Congressman Tim Ryan on. He's thrown his in coupe.

COOPER: I know.

CUOMO: He's in a race. He wants to be president. Why? Why him? We'll test him tonight.

COOPER: All right. Chris, I'll see you in a couple of minutes.

Coming up next, the President makes another controversial pick for another powerful post, that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Trump says he's planning to nominate former Republican presidential hopeful, Herman Cain for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board. In the Oval Office today, the President called Cain "a terrific man and terrific person." It's his second Fed recommendation in recent days.

Earlier, he said he wanted conservative economist Stephen Moore, a former campaign aid to be on the Fed as well. As for Cain, he's a former pizza executive who dropped out of the 2012 Republican nomination amid sexual harassment allegations. Unlike Moore, Cain does have some experience with the Fed.